Article published at Catalan News, 26th June 2017.
German Socialist Bernhard von Grünberg says Europe cannot look away while Spain reverts to authoritarianism
“It is absurd to take pro-independence politicians to court, because it only fuels support for independence. It looks like the State wants the conflict,” said German politician Bernhard Von Grünberg incredulously in an interview with the CNA. Von Grünberg advocates Europe’s role in the resolution of the stalemate between Catalonia and Spain, a state, which according to him, is getting closer and closer to an authoritarian system.
“As European democrats we cannot look the other way with the excuse that we already have enough conflicts, and just watch while Spain reverts to an authoritarian system,” said the German Socialist, who has been MP in the Land of North Rhine Westphalia for 12 years and was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic. “We need a more democratic Europe,” Von Grünberg determined. He takes the stance that the lack of historical memory in Spain is one of the reasons for the current political deadlock.
Von Grünberg is also president of the rental law association of his land (German federal district). He supports the local rental law association in Barcelona to help create a more attractive legal framework for rental housing in Spain in order to promote more equal social and economic growth in Europe. On Wednesday, June 28, he will receive an award from APPEC, the Association of Catalan Periodicals, in Barcelona for his social and political involvement.
“I come often to Catalonia and Spain, because I am interested in the political situation,” said Von Grünberg, who was one of the international observers during the non-binding vote on independence on November 9, 2014. As he explains in comments to the CNA, the whole conflict caught his attention because he had learned at home how important it is to address true historical memory. “My father was a very well-known Nazi, so I have participated a lot in the historic memory processes in Bonn, and I think part of the problem in Spain today is they haven’t addressed the Franco period. After 40 years it’s about time to face history and work things out. It is important for the cohesion of society,” the German ex-MP explained.
Asked about the lack of political dialogue in Spain, Grünberg said: “if a country claims to be a democracy it cannot be that 2 out of 7 million inhabitants demonstrate on the street and in Madrid politicians pretend that this is not of any concern.” Von Grünberg thinks it’s incomprehensible that despite the big peaceful civic demonstrations the only answer from Madrid is “you have to do what I say and that’s all there is to it”.
- “As European democrats we cannot afford to look the other way. With the excuse that we don’t want another conflict in Europe, we are witnessing without protest how Spain is turning more and more into an authoritarian system”Bernhard von Grünberg · former MP of North Rhine Westphalia
According to Von Grünberg the German experience with a federal state shows that “everyone has to make compromises” and that there is always a way to solve problematic situations. “As a politician in a federal system I understand how federalism works and know its advantages. We also have our issues to solve, but for us it’s not so much about sharing resources, which is necessary for the stability of society throughout the country, it’s more about the protection of our regional powers. In Germany it is very clear who has which powers. And it’s part of the state’s ideology that the powers that directly affect citizens’ lives in a region should be managed locally, for example, education or culture, and also the police force. “It is very important to implement the principle of subsidiarity,” Von Grünberg added.
“Unfortunately this doesn’t work at all in Spain,” Von Grünberg stated, criticizing the legal prosecution of Catalan members of Parliament, which he called “absurd”. “It cannot be that when there is no capacity for dialogue, that they opt for a legal solution,” he added and warned that this tactic only leads to more conflict and increases the support for independence.
A call on Europe
“As European democrats we cannot afford to look the other way. With the excuse that we don’t want another conflict in Europe, we are witnessing without protest how Spain is turning more and more into an authoritarian system,“ Von Grünberg warned. The German politician said he regrets the involvement of Germany in Franco’s coup d’état and its acceptance of the dictatorship right to the end. Von Grünberg pointed out that now it is Germany’s obligation to get involved in finding a solution for the Catalan conflict.
Von Grünberg also insisted that a more democratic and less authoritarian Europe was necessary. “We don’t need more authoritarian systems in Europe. It cannot be that there is a rise of the nation-state model which should have already evolved to a much more federal model.” Von Grünberg also explained that it was very important to look for ways to strengthen Europe and secure economic and social equality.
Finally, the German politician highlighted that the Catalan movement was receiving more realistic coverage in the German press compared to a few years ago, when it was usually compared to exclusionary movements like Lega Nord, that do not want to share their wealth with poorer regions. According to Von Grünberg, in Catalonia it is just the other way around. “Catalonia is a very generous, welcoming society,” he assured. “I also work in refugee policy and for me it is absolutely incomprehensible that, for example, Catalonia is not allowed to take in refugees. How irrational is that?” Von Grünberg said.